Last Saturday morning, I hopped into a rutiera from Cahul en route to Chisinau, expecting an uneventful 45-minute ride to the capital. The van was full, so I sat on a stool in the aisle. When we were 15 minutes away from the capital, I heard an un-human sound behind me and assumed it to be something normal, like a pig or a chicken. Then I heard shouting behind me.
"Opreste, opreste!" a man yelled behind me, calling for the driver to stop the van.
"Vania!" a 25-year-old girl screamed in front of me as she looked past me. I turned around and saw Vania, a young man who was presumably the girl's boyfriend, having a seizure three feet away from me.
First, I'll get the serious aspects of this medical emergency out of the way, so you can stop worrying. We pulled over, called an ambulance on my cell phone and kept him from going into shock while we waited. As far as I know, the guy turned out fine.
Now we can amuse ourselves with the way Moldovans with very little understanding of medicine tried to help this man in his time of need.
The first reaction anyone had was to slap the guy in the face several times. This was done by a man in his 50s who had been sitting behind me. How slapping an epileptic helps is beyond me. (I gather that he was an epileptic because his girlfriend, although very distraught, quickly told everyone that the biggest danger was him swallowing his tongue. She obviously knew his condition.)
When slapping had no apparent effect, several of the other men carried Vania out of the rutiera and laid him in the grass on the side of the road. This was smart, although they may not have known it, because it left him with nothing to hit his head on. From that point on, though, hindsight doesn't look kindly on some of their actions. The driver's first instinct when confronted with the seizure victim was to pour bottled water on his face and chest. This qualifies as a rapid temperature change and is not the best thing to do when you're trying to keep a victim warm in 45-degree weather. The driver can be excused, however, because he didn't do perhaps the least helpful and/or most dangerous action. Another man, I believe the one who had slapped Vania in the rutiera, pried open Vania's mouth and initiated three or four chest compressions. Vania was breathing and had a pulse, thus there was no need for this, and broken ribs would ahve been a possibility if the man had continued.
After the man was satisfied that Vania had a pulse, others put a purse under his head as a cushion and placed his girlfriend's coat over him. These were smart things to do. Two people then began to rub his arms in a motion that implied they were trying to return blood flow to his extremities, which they had no reason to suspect had stopped other than his clammy skin. The girlfriend was massaging the intersecting area among the eye sockets and the top of the nose. These measures weren't helping, but they weren't hurting, either, so I kept my Red Cross-trained mouth shut.
Somewhere early in the process, I asked if someone should call an ambulance. I was either not heard the first time or ignored. When I asked a second time, I was told by the girlfriend, still hysterical, that no one knew the number. I searched the Voxtel Numere UtileВ section of my phone and found Ambulanta. I started the phone dialing and gave it to the driver and told him to talk to them, not trusting my Romanian in this situation. I found a knocked-over cement mile marker (or was it a kilometer marker?) on the side of the road and gave him the number.
When the driver finished the call, he gave me back the phone and all the men began to wonder what to do next. Not wanting to do nothing, they agreed that they were wasting time waiting for the ambulance here, and that they would do better by driving toward Chisinau to try to intercept it. Since I had no idea how long the medical response time would be in a second-world country, I had no problem with this, especially when the driver used my phone again to call the paramedics and tell them we were driving toward them.
In the three minutes while we were driving in the rutiera, Vania and his girlfriend sat in the front of the passenger section, while I stood behind them, having lost my stool somewhere in the rush. The girlfriend and a random woman sitting next to them were each massaging an arm. The common wisdom on the rutieraВ was that it was too hot for Vania, so the driver rolled down the windows. This is not a strange idea in America, but in a country and a region of the world in which people fear The Current, a.k.a. fresh air that is certain to carry diseases, opening the windows was a huge risk and, I would say, a total betrayal of centuries of Moldovan common sense medical practices. Nevertheless, they did it, and in this particular situation, it might have actually been the wrong idea, since it's better to keep the patient warm to keep him from going into shock.
My worries about shock were warranted; as I stood over Vania, looking down every few seconds to check on him, I noticed his eyes closing. I turned to his girlfriend and spoke with as much medical authority as I could without knowing the words for "seizure" or "shock":
"El nu poate sa doarma," literally meaning, "He can't sleep," but not really using a correct formulation in Romanian. Better would have been, "El nu trebuie sa doarma," meaning, "He mustn't sleep." But my language teachers would be proud of my mastery of the conjunctive in the third person.
"Dar i-e somn," the girlfriend replied. "But he's tired."
"Nu, el nu poate sa doarma," I said, repeating my grammatical mistake but with an even more serious face. "Daca el doarme, este o conditie foarte rau," I said, forgetting to agree "bad" with the feminine word for "condition," yet nevertheless getting my point across that, "If he sleeps, it's a very bad condition." I must have delivered my garbled lines well, because the girlfriend snapped to it quickly and started rubbing him face and arms more fervently and telling him to wake up.
Not long afterward, we intercepted the ambulance, and the men from the rutieraВ helped Vania, who was not in shock but noticeably shaken, sweaty and pale, get in. His girlfriend got in behind him, and we piled back into our rutieraВ for the last few minutes of the drive to Chisinau. Thanks to having two fewer passengers, I even got to sit in a real seat. I got out at South Station, paid my 10 lei, and went on my way.